musings of a mediabot

A culture of abundance

Posted on: November 19, 2008

America has harbored a culture of opportunity since Columbus landed on its eastern shores (or Norse explorer Leif Ericson if you will).  And from its original ideals of promise that capture the true American dream have opened endless doors to fruitful possibilities – look where we are now in our digital communities.  There is talk about Web 3.0, and now the Internet, whose environment formerly had no walls, can connect one user to another user with seamless agility, without doing anything at all.  If the machine is not closing the gaps, who or what is?  It’s you and me!

Let’s first discuss Web 2.0.  The innovative technology author Tim O’Reilly who helped coined the term describes Web 2.0 as a digital platform where various “elements” (web services, web behaviors, for example) work together in a sort of “solar system,” where everything that has ever been put on the web is now available (and discoverable!) to everyone.  O’Reilly emphasizes that in a Web 2.0 platform, there is an implicit “architecture of participation,” where users connect with each other to discover and create even more ways to connect with each other.  This fundamental theory is the start of Web 3.0.  (O’Reilly has written an article about Web 2.0 for the curious.)

So, what does this have to do with America and opportunities?  Well,  Chris Anderson explains in his book The Long Tail.  What is a long tail?  It describes a new business strategy in which companies sell few quantities of unique products in niche markets and still make a lot of profit. Netflix and Amazon are examples of long tails.  Each have a seemingly endless number of movies and other sought-after items and because of its scope of variety have seen its profits grow and grow.  Anderson attributes the success of this niche strategy to the simple fact that there is an abundant amount of “resources” to recover.  The long tail reflects the overwhelming culture of abundance that America is known for around the world.

You would think that having thousands of movies to choose from, or a type of pasta sauce, or a flavor of Jell-O is heaven.  I am thankful that music still has reached its exhaustive peak in the digital landscape for I am always itching for a new sound by a new band.  But at what point is abundance just too much?  

This brings to mind a very interesting read by Daniel Pink called A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future.  In it, Pink argues that the proliferation of new technologies require a new breed of business people.  Instead of CEOs in business suits, Pink calls for the creatives to start filling board rooms and making executive decisions.  He argues that the current business models will become stale and that out-sourcing will eventually corrode business exchanges from zest and innovation and complex thinking. He attributes the corrosion to abundance, among other reasons.

What’s interesting is that Anderson, an observer and preserver of technology and innovation is for abundance (the more products are available, no matter how popular, the more profit there is to be made), while Pink, an advocate for creativity and new ideas (not to far from innovation now is it?) is against abundance.  Who is right?

I don’t think there is a clear right or wrong here.  As Rhapsody founder Rob Reid said, “In a world of infinite choice, context – not content – is king.”  It’s all in the context, I suppose.


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